Puyallup leaders freeze development where daffodils once bloomed

Tacoma News TribuneJanuary 28, 2014 

It took a few weeks longer than expected, but the Puyallup City Council on Tuesday placed a four-month freeze on development plans on the east side of the city, where controversy has grown as thick as daffodils once did.

The council voted 4-3 to approve a moratorium on the processing of any land-use or building plans in a 70-acre area near East Pioneer Avenue and Shaw Road. The council first introduced the moratorium in early January.

The council majority hopes calling a timeout will ensure one of the last large swaths of Puyallup Valley open space is not overrun by unsightly industrial growth. Some believe it may not take the entire four months for city leaders, landowners and developers to settle on acceptable standards.

“We need to get to the table and cut through the circus and do it real quickly,” said Councilman John Hopkins, who sided with the majority as a key swing vote.

Voting yes were Hopkins, John Palmer, Julie Door and Heather Shadko. Voting no were Steve Vermillion, Tom Swanson and Mayor John Knutsen.

The action means long-time Puyallup Valley daffodil grower Neil Van Lierop will have to wait to sell his land to Schnitzer West, a Seattle development company. Van Lierop said during public comment that “this is a disgusting game that’s going on here.”

Likewise, a Schnitzer representative said he was “completely floored” this week when he learned the council had called a special meeting for Tuesday night. Jeff Harmer, a senior investment manager, said he’d been working with the city the last few weeks to find common ground short of imposing the moratorium.

Schnitzer rushed a land-use application to the city on Jan. 7 in hopes that it would be approved by early February and lock up the company’s rights to develop the property before a moratorium could derail it.

The application shows a warehouse of nearly 500,000 square feet, though Harmer said it’s very preliminary. He pointed to the Valley Avenue Business Park, which Schnitzer built in 2007, as an example of quality development it would like to bring to the Shaw Road site.

Vermillion said he didn’t blame Schnitzer for filing the early application; he described it as “putting a foot in the door before the city slams it.”

But Palmer said it wouldn’t “feel too good” letting Schnitzer officials get their development rights vested and then trying to negotiate with them.

Calling a timeout on plans to develop the land on and around the now-defunct Van Lierop Bulb Farm has not come easily.

Palmer and his allies first called for a six-month moratorium, then scaled it back to four months -- a proposal that gained a slim majority of council support on Jan. 7. But just one week later, the council changed directions and voted to postpone a final moratorium vote “indefinitely.” That bought them time to work something out with Schnitzer.

The land in question was previously caught up in a controversial rezone, approved by the council in November, to help Van Lierop and other property owners sell their land after years of waiting.

Then came a new year, and with it a different combination of people and interests on the City Council who favored a slower approach to development.

Tom Maskal, who's had 16 acres for sale in the affected area since 2000, criticized the city Tuesday for going back on zoning revisions that were years in the making. "This has really turned into a Looney Tunes operation," he said.

Tuesday’s vote followed a 75-minute closed-door executive session in which council members met with staff to discuss “litigation or potential litigation.”

City Manager Bill McDonald said earlier Tuesday that neither Schnitzer nor Van Lierop had sued the city. But he told The News Tribune: “You have to assume that could happen.”

Speaking before Tuesday’s vote, Puyallup resident Nicole Martineau said she hoped the council wouldn’t be swayed by that possibility.

“I would urge the council not to act out of fear of a lawsuit,” said Martineau, a former councilwoman.

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